On track: RTM OKs $7.5M more to finish Metro RR station
The $7.5 million in additional funding that officials say is needed to complete construction of the Fairfield Metro railroad station won final approval Wednesday night, but not every Representative Town Meeting member was ready to climb on board.
An amended agreement with the state Department of Transportation last year put the onus on the town to shoulder any cost overruns for building the station when the DOT kicked in $19.1 million to get work moving again after the private partner, Blackrock Realty, went into foreclosure.
Even some of the RTM members who voted in favor of the bonding -- expected to be reduced by as much as $3 million from the state if the parking lot and access road are completed by Oct. 31 -- did so only after throwing some of the players onto the tracks.
"This is a really hard vote for me to do," said Faith Dillon, R-9. She said her vote on the original contract was no easier because Kurt Wittek, the principal of Blackrock Realty, was involved. "We tossed it back and forth," Dillon said. "We were not happy who we were getting into bed with," she added, referring to Wittek's conviction for bank fraud in North Carolina.
"You don't trust someone like that," Dillon said of Wittek, who she described as the type of person that when he walks into a room, "you hide your daughter."
Hoffman, R-8, argued that the state and Blackrock stand to gain more from the new train station than the town, and if the RTM were to refuse to approve the extra funding, those two partners would still come up with the money to finish the work.
"Why are we running scared and being willing to foot the bill," Hoffman said. "The state wants it. Blackrock wants it. If we say no, do you think Blackrock's going to come after us? Do you think the state's going to come after us? It's not in their best interest to do that."
For Bateson, R-3, it came down to the fact that the legislative body wasn't asked by then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto to approve the amended contract. "The discussion should have happened," he said, "and I find that painful given everything I've read in the audit report and everything that happened."
Other RTM members, though, pointed out that not approving the $7.5 million would bring final stages of work on the project to a halt, and leave the town liable to upwards of $21 million in terms of reimbursements to the state and contract penalties.
Failure to complete Fairfield Metro, which has been built to comply with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, would require the town to bring one of its two other train stations into ADA compliance.
Tim Fisher, an outside counsel hired by interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau to review the Metro Center contracts, has stated repeatedly that those documents are enforceable both by the town and against it. He also said that authorizing the additional bonding would not prevent the town from going after other parties to recoup monetary damages.
Braun, R-9, asked Tetreau why the RTM wasn't informed of a proposal from Wittek to provide an additional $1 million in cash for the project, as well as allow storage of excess contaminated soil found on the former industrial site on his share of the property. That should save the town another $2 million in removal costs.
However, that deal is contingent on the state agreeing to give Wittek air rights over the commuter parking lot to build a parking deck.
"That's a discussion between Blackrock and the DOT," Tetreau said, and has been a topic of discussion between those parties for some months now. The town, he said, has no control over the air rights. And the state, he said, "won't give Blackrock Realty the deck unless we get the $3 million" in from Wittek.
"This has nothing to do with the town," Tetreau said. "He has no leverage with the state. The only thing he did was bring the town into it and hold us hostage."
Wittek sent an email to RTM members Monday morning outlining his proposed deal. "Blackrock doesn't like being painted as the bad guy," Tetreau said of that gesture.